For 13 long years, Buzz Arlett toiled in the minors, putting up incredibly gaudy numbers as both a pitcher and a hitter. Major league teams came calling, but his team, the Oakland Oaks, wanted far more money for his services (minor league teams used to sell their players to the Majors) than any team was ready to spend. And so, year after year, he destroyed Pacific Coast League pitching, setting a record for most home runs in the minor leagues that still stands today and regularly hitting in the high .300s. Finally, in 1931, the pitiful Philadelphia Phillies decided to pay the money and give him a shot.
He started the 1931 season on fire, and after six weeks, he was leading the majors with a .385 average and had already hit 11 homers. Fans at the Baker Bowl had something to cheer about for the first time since 1915. But he hurt his leg while sliding, then broke his thumb in June. His defense, always a liability, had certainly not improved with age and injuries, and he made regular blunders in the field. He would finish the season with a .313 average, 18 homers, and 72 RBIs. Despite those numbers, the Phillies decided to waive him, and he was claimed by minor league giants the Baltimore Orioles, where he played for several more years. He would play in the minors until 1937, never again getting a cup of coffee in the pros. In 1984, SABR named him the greatest minor league ballplayer of all time.
It’s looking right now that the Eagles might honestly not win another game this year. If that is in fact the case, they will end the season with 12 straight losses. That would bring them close to the team record, and it would set a record for most consecutive losses in one season.
1936 was the first year that the NFL had a draft, which was done on the insistence of Eagles owner and coach Bert Bell (left), whose team had gone 2-9 the year before. Bell not only made the first selection of the draft as owner of the Eagles, he acted as emcee for the evening, as the draft was held at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia!
With their first pick, the Eagles selected the first ever winner of the Heisman Trophy, Jay Berwanger. (Incidentally, with the 3rd pick of the draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a player named William Shakespeare, who had possibly the greatest nickname in NFL history: “The Merchant of Menace”). But the Eagles couldn’t meet Berwanger’s money demands, and he was traded to the Bears (he never signed with them either). Much like the Eagles now, whose inability to sign even moderately effective offensive lineman has cost them the season, in 1936 their inability to sign a player of Berwanger’s ability hurt them greatly, both on the field and at the box office.
The season started promisingly enough, with a 10-7 win over the New York Giants at Municipal Stadium (below right). Then things went downhill, and fast. In their next 5 games, they were outscored 101-3. Finally, in week 7, they scored their second TD of the season, but still lost to the Boston Redskins, 17-7. The next week, they cracked double digits again, again versus the Giants, but lost a shootout 21-17. They then went on to score a total of 2 TDs for the rest of the season to finish 1-11, with 11 straight losses. They were outscored that season 206-51, with over half of their points coming in two games against the Giants.
Their stats for the 1936 season are absolutely hilarious. They had 8 different players throw at least one pass that season. These QBs combined to complete 22.9% of their passes for 603 yards, with 3 Touchdowns and 36 interceptions. The Eagles completed 39 passes that year, and threw 36 interceptions. Not a good year for the likes of Swede Hanson, Stumpy Thomason, and Reds Bassman. The leading receiver on that team was Eggs Manske with 325 yards. Hanson led the team in rushing.
1937 started out no better. They lost their first 3 games, then broke their losing streak at 14 with a thrilling 6-6 tie against the Chicago Cardinals. They would lose the next week, then finally go into Washington, where the Redskins were playing their first season after moving from Boston, and win 14-0. They would finish the 1937 season 2-8-1.
Their first decade as a franchise (1933-1942) has to be some sort of record for futility. They went 23-82-4 (23.8%). The 14 game losing streak was no apparition. Let’s hope the Eagles current losing streak is just a sign of a bad season, not of a franchise heading backwards to 1930s levels of ineptitude. And let’s hope we can sign this year’s first round draft pick. (Special thanks to Reuben Frank who told me on twitter what the longest losing streak in Eagles history was.)
The Phils played their final game at the Baker Bowl on June 30th, so today I’m gonna post a couple of things about Baker Bowl. I really liked this piece, written about Baker Bowl, in 1937 by a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Gonna post some pics and videos soon.
Excited to add a new member to the PSH clan. Michael Collazo and I used to work together for the Camden Riversharks in 2002, and we were pretty good buds, since we were both such sports history buffs. I knew he loved old sports stuff, and I knew he was a pretty good writer, so I recently asked him to join the team. He said he’d love to do an occasional piece. Here’s his first column, about the 1934 Philadelphia Stars. If you’ve got a Philly Sports History piece you’d like to write, please gimme a heads up. If it’s good, I’d be happy to post it on the site.
In 1934, Philly fans followed their teams on an infant medium called radio, not via the Internet or Twitter. In those days, fans flipped through the sports pages of the Bulletin or the Inquirer, not through the channels of the MLB Extra Innings package. And fans then didn’t have cupholders – they sat their brew on bleachers and they liked it!
What fans in 1934 also didn’t do: cheer their sorry teams playing in North Philly.
I mean, the Phillies always sucked. No shocker there. Philly guys my age in the early 1930s longed for the days of Grover Cleveland Alexander…ok more accurately, barely ANY Philly guys my age in the early 1930s cared much for the Fightins. The Phillies sat seventh in the standings and at the bottom of the league in attendance. Ethan Allen – not the department store, the baseball player – led this team in hits and on-base percentage. Dolph Camili led the team in diggers with just 12. One Phils pitcher salvaged a winning record; the team ERA hovered at 4.76.
Meanwhile in the American League, Philly’s love affair with the Athletics was being tested. A’s fans found themselves watching The Titanic after the great A’s championship run of the late 20s and early 30s. By 1934, Connie Mack was slowly dismantling the team to save money. Sure, the A’s still had the great Jimmie Foxx – he blasted 43 HRs in ’34 – but there was no more Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane or Lefty Grove. This pitching staff struggled to a 5.01 ERA.
In West Philly, however, Philly big-league baseball had a winner — Great Depression be-damned. The Philadelphia Stars may have played at smallish Passon Field (48th and Spruce) – it only played on Mondays in North Philly’s Shibe Park — but the Stars indeed were the best team in town in 1934. In its first Negro National League season, the Stars won the second half title (the first and second half champs served as pennant winners).
You think the 2012 Phillies team is aged – the Stars’ two biggest stars were in their late 30s. Hall of Famer Biz Mackey (right), a switch-hitting catcher, was a .300-caliber hitter even at age 36. Mackey, who many historians consider at least Mickey Cochrane’s equal, had his best days in Darby, PA playing for the Hilldales of the 1920s. Another Wheez Kid of West Philly was Jud Wilson, whose .347 average and line drive power led the team, despite being 38 years old. On the mound, a hard-throwing, hard-drinking cat from Baltimore MURR-lyn named Stuart “Slim” Jones enjoyed one of the most impactful career years in Philly baseball history (read Slim’s ultimately tragic story here). A lefty whose fastball was compared to Lefty Grove’s, the 21-year-old Jones served as Philly’s undisputed ace, winning 20 games and keeping his ERA under 2.00.
The 1934 championship series matched the upstart Stars against the Chicago American Giants, which fielded four players now enshrined in Cooperstown: Turkey Stearns, Willie Wells, Mule Suttles and Bill Foster. Considered one of the most contested series in Black Baseball history, the Stars basically intimidated its way to a title, despite dueling protests and scheduling issues. With Chicago up three games to two, Game 6 saw a fired-up Jud Wilson basically clock umpire Bert Gholston – yet was allowed to stay in the game. Later in the game another fight flared up – again without resulting in an ejection. As Gholston would admit in a meeting later that week, he relented from ejecting anyone in Game 6 because he feared the damage Wilson or a fellow Star might do to him. Chicago protested the game but Philly came away with a 4-1 win. After a game that ended in a 4-4 tie, the Stars won a replayed Game 7 2-0, thanks to a brilliant performance by Slim Jones.
As University of Delaware history professor Nel Lanctot wrote in Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Fall of a Black Institution, more was written in the Black press on the confrontations and the questionable administrative decisions of the NNL than the game results itself.
But the 1934 Phils and A’s wished they were so entertaining. The aptly named Philly Stars were champs.
If only we could have had enjoyed a Jud Wilson Twitter feed…
The correct answer to this awesome trivia question? Walt Masters, born on March 28th, 1907 in Pen Argyle (near Easton). Masters was a Philly boy, though, graduating from West Philly High School and then attending the Wharton School at Penn. He played baseball and football at Penn, and was a star at both.
Masters made his MLB debut for the Washington Senators on July 9th, 1931, when he pitched an inning in a 14-1 blowout over the Red Sox. He pitched twice more that year, and then disappeared from baseball. He was also making money as a semi-pro football player, and baseball didn’t allow people to play other sports in the US. Masters tried to get around the rule by moving to Canada and playing for the Rough Riders (those Penn kids are a sneaky bunch aren’t they?) But the Rough Riders wouldn’t let him play football because they were amateurs and he had gotten paid for baseball, so he coached football and played baseball for an Ottawa team for a few years. He returned to Philly in 1936 and played briefly for the Eagles at QB. He went 1-6 for 11 yards with one INT, and ran 7 times for 18 yards. After the season, he signed with the Phillies and was on the team briefly in 1937. He didn’t have much more success on the diamond, where the pitcher appeared in one game and got blasted for 4 earned runs in a single inning of work against the Reds. Two years later, he would reappear on the Philadelphia A’s (making him also the answer to the question, “Who is the only player to play for the A’s, Phillies, and Eagles?”) He pitched in 4 games and finished the year with a 6.55 ERA.
During the war, former sports stars were in high demand, so in 1943 the 36-year old Masters played a few games for the Chicago Cardinals. He wasn’t very good, going 17-45, 249 yards, with 2 TDs and 7 Ints. He tossed 7 more passes for the Cards in 1944, and then was out of pro sports for good. He returned to Ottawa, where he played both football and baseball. He then worked in public relations for a company specializing in cleaning buildings in Ottawa. He died in Canada in 1992 at the age of 85.
On July 23rd, 1930, the Phillies took on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a doubleheader at the Baker Bowl. The Pirates had Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and Paul “Big Poison” Waner* on their squad, but were headed to a forgettable 5th place finish in the NL that year.
The 1930 Phillies, on the other hand, were probably the most fascinating team in MLB history. They hit .315 as a team, the 3rd highest total in MLB history (Interestingly, the Giants hit .319 that same year to set the record). They had 1783 hits that season, still the most in MLB history. The Phils had 5 regulars who batted over .300, including outfielders Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doul, who both batted over .380. Klein had perhaps the greatest regular season in Phillies history, finishing with a line of .386-40-170, and a slugging percentage of .687 (Jose Bautista currently leads the Majors with a .686). And yet, these Sultans of Swat finished 52-102, 40 games out of first. You read that right. A team that batted .315 collectively finished 50 games UNDER .500. How is that possible?
Because the Phillies had the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball. The only team you could even compare them to was my Little League team that finished 0-15 in 1984 (True story). For some perspective, think about how terrible Adam Eaton was in 2008, when he went 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA. And just think, the 1930 Phils had 11 pitchers with worse ERAs than Adam Eaton.
A few years ago, a guy named Tom Ruane wrote a paper called “Modern Baseball’s Greatest Hitting Team”. The answer? The opponents of the 1930 Phillies. Try these stats on for size: Phillies’ opponents batted .346 that year (27 points higher than those record setting 1930 Giants), with 1994 hits (200 more than the record holders, the 1930 Phillies) and scored 1199 runs (Over 130 more than the record holders, the 1931 Yankees.) The ace of that staff was none other than Phil Collins. And you thought No Jacket Required was his worst work. (Rim Shot). Actually, Collins wasn’t the problem. He was an almost respectable 16-11 with a 4.78 ERA. Ray Benge came next, with a 5.70 ERA. Then came two record holders. Les Sweetland set a record that year that has never been broken, throwing for a 7.71 ERA, (the worst of all time among pitchers who qualify for ERA title). #2 for worst all time was his teammate Claude Willoughby, with a 7.59 ERA. It must have been like Mantle and Maris chasing the Babe’s home run title that year. And Hal Elliot just fell short of qualifying for an ERA title, throwing 117 innings. Otherwise he would be 2nd, with a 7.67 ERA.
Anyways, that brings us back to that game against the Pirates on July 23rd of that year. Somehow, the Phils only gave up two runs in the first game of that double header, but their bats fell silent, and they lost 2-1. They came back with a vengeance in the 2nd game, rapping a team record 27 hits (a record that was tied in a 1985 game against the Mets). But in a perfect encapsulation of their season, they still lost the game, 16-15, in 13 innings, with Les Sweetland taking the loss. A day later, they would play host to the Cubs, and lose to them, 19-15. Claude Willoughby was the losing pitcher, being replaced without recording a single out.
And so when people say they wish they could combine the 2008 Phils’ hitters with the 2011 Phils’ pitchers to make the perfect team, I argue that they’d be even better if you combined the 2011 Phils with the 1930 Phils. Hell, they’d win 130 games. And Chuck Klein probably wouldn’t want to punch every starter in the face for ruining his greatest season ever.
*How badass of a name is “Big Poison”? I want to steal it. Can you start calling me that? Please start calling me Johnny “Big Poison” Goodtimes. It would be greatly appreciated.
On June 3, 1932, Lou Gehrig and the Yankees travelled to take on the Athletics in Shibe park. These two teams were the dominant teams of the late 20s and early 30s, yet surprisingly only 7300 fans were in attendance for the game. Those 7300 never forgot what they saw that day.
Gehrig stepped into the batters box in the first inning to face the Athletics George Earnshaw. Gehrig blasted a pitch from Earnshaw over the wall in left center. In the 4th inning he took one over the right field wall.But the A’s formidable offense came roaring back, and they took an 8-4 lead into the top of the 5th. But Gehrig hit his 3rd home run to get NY back in the game, and Connie Mack pulled Earnshaw. He should have left him in. The A’s bullpen imploded, allowing 13 runs in 4 innings of work. In the 7th inning, Gehrig batted again. And he homered again, this time to right off Rube Walberg.
Gehrig came to bat again in the 8th. By now, the Philadelphia fans knew they were witnessing history and stood on their feet, imploring him to hit his 5th home run. He grounded out weakly. It looked like he was done. However, the Yankees blew open a tight game in the 9th, scoring 6 runs, and Gehrig got to bat again, this time off of a shell shocked Eddie Rommel. Gehrig blasted one to deep center, the deepest part of the park. It was his hardest hit ball of the day. The crowd stood on its feet…then groaned as it was caught on the inches from the 468′ center field wall. He was the first 20th century player to hit 4 home runs in a game. (One of the 19th century players to do it was the Phillies Ed Delahanty.) Incredibly, lost in the hubbub over Gehrig’s day, few people noticed that his teammate Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle! The Yankees won the game, 20-13. The Yankees were in the midst of an amazing 108-47 record that year, which culminated in a sweep of the Cubs in the World Series.
RELATED: A list of all players to hit 4 homers in a single game. Incredibly the Phillies are the only team to have 3 players do it. (Delahanty, Klein, and Schmidt.)
A few days ago, I posted Part 1 of my interview with local history professor and author Bruce Kuklick, who wrote the incredible book To Every Thing a Season about Shibe Park and how it affected the surrounding neighborhood through the decades. If you are a fan of Philadelphia sports history, this book is simply a must read.
In Part 2 of our interview, he talks about the reputation of Connie Mack (left) in the city, whether or not there was an uproar in Philly when the Athletics moved away, and what were the best and worst things about Shibe Park. Next week, he’ll talk about how hard it was to sell booze at Shibe, how rowdy the fans were, and compare it to Citizen’s Bank Park.
JGT: The book deals a lot with Connie Mack. Obviously, since he ran the team for 50 years. Was he seen as a local hero or as a local goat, or a little bit of both depending?
KUKLICK: I’d say in the 1920s, when he’s in his 60s, he looks like he’s over the hill, and then he has this one last hurrah where he creates this 1929-1931 dynasty and he is a Philadelphia hero. In fact he gets, in ’29, the Bok Award, which is usually given to like the governor or some political or social big wig. And that it went to a baseball guy is really extraordinary at that time. In the ’20s, as he built that team up, he is more than a local hero. He is a national sports statesman. Then, when the team tanks in the ’30s and Mack is in his 70s, he goes downhill pretty fast.
In the ’50s, everybody thinks, “This guy is over the hill. Let’s get rid of him.” It’s sad, because no one will say it. Some people say that the last year he managed he was kind of like Reagan at the end of the Reagan years, just completely out of it. So I think he went through all these kinds of permutations, but at his height he was, you know…
JGT: King of the city?
JGT: When the Phillies won a couple of years ago, the city went nuts, with a party on Broad Street and a parade afterwards. Did they used to do that back then when the A’s won?
KUKLICK: Yeah. In ’29 is the first World Series win, that’s the big one. Then they do it again in ’30. And after that Mack says, “The Philadelphia fans don’t appreciate a winner. They don’t care about it anymore.” And his argument that he sold off the team was that in ’31 there wasn’t much fan support. And what he wanted to do was not to ensure that they would win, but get them to play .600 ball instead of .680 ball.
JGT: So there would be a pennant chase in September and people would want to come out to the ballpark.
KUKLICK: Right. But he miscalculated how hard it is to do these things.
JGT: It’s hard enough to build a winner, much less a team that wins exactly 60% of their ballgames.
JGT: So getting back to the earlier question, do you know if they had a parade or people running wild in the streets? (after the A’s won the Series in the late 20s-early 30s)
KUKLICK: I know that there was a lot of cheering in the streets. Not necessarily down Broad Street. But all over North Philly, you would know that this had happened, that this was big news.
JGT: Now, I don’t know if you know this, but the Oakland A’s are probably going to move in the next couple of years.
KUKLICK: I did not know that.
JGT: They’ll probably stay on the West Coast, but there is a small but vocal local minority that wants them to come back to Philadelphia. Could this area support two baseball teams?
KUKLICK: That would be my dream come true. I don’t know. I don’t know.
JGT: Well, let’s rewind a little bit. When they did move to Kansas City initially, was there any local outrage?
KUKLICK: No. The leaving of the Dodgers and the Giants, is really…I mean, I know people who still won’t forgive the owners who left, Stoneham and O’Malley. Who hate them. Who still hate them. You won’t find that in Philly. The A’s from 1950-54 were really bad, and the Phillies looked so good all of a sudden, people got suckered into thinking they had something with the Phillies. There was a group, Save the A’s, that put together a feeble little attempt of guys with very little money to try to keep the franchise in the city. But they got forgotten (snaps fingers) like that once they left.
JGT: Getting back to Shibe. What were the best things about Shibe Park and what were the worst things?
KUKLICK: I used to go there as a kid. That’s how I learned my baseball. My dad used to take me. By the end, it was really a dump. When the A’s left the city, Bob Carpenter, who was the Phillies owner, had no alternative but to buy the park. He didn’t want it, he wasn’t interested in ballparks. And he really let it get run down. Because from the very start he was trying to figure out some way to have a new facility. He thought this was a white elephant. For the last 10 years, from about 1960 to 1970, the place doesn’t get maintained at all. That’s the worst part. Also the neighborhood was really decaying. There was no place to park. It really wasn’t a pleasant experience.
What was really spectacular about that place for me and this might be silly but really it is heartfelt. That ballpark is right in the middle of the city. And you are in the middle of an urban area. And you walk into this park, and it’s dark and there’s concrete around, and then you come up to one of the entrances to the field, and you see this green diamond. There’s just something there that’s just incredible. And I talked to a lot of people who said, “Here I was some little kid from South Philly or West Philly and had never really seen the countryside and all of a sudden inside a building there’s this green grass and it’s like the country.”
On May 25th, 1935, the Babe, playing out his career as a member of the Boston Braves, put on a show in Pittsburgh. He went 4-4 with 3 Home Runs and 6 RBIs. In the two movies that depicted the Babe’s career (The Babe Ruth Story in 1948 and The Babe in 1992), it was portrayed as his final game. It was not. The Babe played in 5 more games, the last of which came at Baker Bowl against the Phillies on Memorial Day, May 30th. It did not provide much of a Hollywood ending.
The following comes from the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society:
Ruth was inserted in the line-up, batting third and playing leftfield. Coming up to bat in the first inning, Ruth faced Phillies’ pitcher Jim Bivin. 1935 was Bivin’s only year in the Major Leagues, and he played the entire season with the Phillies. He compiled an unenviable 2-9 record for a woeful team that would finish the season in seventh place with a 56-93 record. Bivin, nevertheless, would have the singular distinction of being the last pitcher ever to face Babe Ruth in a Major League game.
At the plate, Ruth grounded out softly to Phillies first baseman Dolph Camilli as the Braves went down without scoring any runs in the inning. Ruth took his customary place in the outfield for the bottom half of the inning. Phillies’ second baseman Lou Chiozza hit a soft fly to leftfield. Ruth came in trying to make the catch, but the ball dropped in front of him and rolled past him to the wall. A run scored, but Chiozza, trying for an inside-the-park home run, was thrown out at the plate when Braves shortstop Bill Urbanski retrieved the ball and got it back to Braves catcher Al Spohrer in time for the tag out. The Phillies wound up scoring three runs in the inning and would go on to win the game 11-6.
The Babe, frustrated, took himself out of the game after the first inning. The Babe had already stated that this would be the last road trip of his career, so the fans, aware that this was to be his final appearance in Philadelphia, gave him a loud ovation. The following comes from Rich Westcott’s book Philadelphia’s Old Ballparks:
As the inning ended, Ruth tucked his glove in his pocket, turned, and ran to the clubhouse in centerfield. The fans, sensing that the end of a glorious career might have arrived, rose and gave Ruth a standing ovation.
Catcher Joe Holden and trainer Leo (Red) Miller were in the Phillies clubhouse when Ruth clattered up the stairs past Boston’s first-floor clubhouse and burst through the door into the home team’s locker room. “Red turned and said, ‘Hello, Babe. Is there anything I can do?’ He thought he might have pulled a muscle,” Holden remembered. “Babe said, ‘No, no, there’s nothing you can do for old age. I’ve just had too many good days to have this happen to me.’ Then I saw Red shake hands with the Babe. It didn’t register at the time that Babe’s career was over.”
If you enjoy reading this site, I heartily recommend that you buy the book To Every Thing a Season by Bruce Kuklick (pronounced Cook-lick). This is the quite simply the best book I have read yet about Philadelphia sports. The book is about Shibe Park, and it covers not only the games that took place there, but the way it helped to shape the surrounding neighborhood over the nearly 70 years it stood at 20th and Lehigh. A truly terrific read that is not only filled with a ton of fascinating facts about the old Phillies and A’s ball clubs, but also a terrific look at the city itself between 1909 and 1976.
I sat down to an interview with Kuklick, and the affable and excitable UPenn History professor talked about Connie Mack’s legacy, why people back in the day decided whether to root for the Phillies or the Athletics (since they played 6 blocks away from each other), and which team is better, the 2011 Phils or the 1929 A’s. There’s so much good stuff in this interview that I’m going to split it into three parts. This is part one. Enjoy! -Johnny Goodtimes
JGT: What inspired you to write this book?
KUKLICK: I’m a long time baseball fan, but up until the point of writing this book, I had kind of fallen away from the game. It was partly the Phillies. They were so lousy in the 60s that I didn’t pay any attention to them. And then my daughter started going to public school in Philly and started getting involved with the Phillies, and she and I started going to games regularly again. I looked around, it was then the Vet, and I said, “How did we get to this wretched, horrible ballpark?” Which I really hated. “What happened to take us away from that old ballpark, Connie Mack Stadium, Shibe Park?” And I’m a historian, and I think, “I can figure this out.” So I started doing the research in old newspapers at the Temple Urban Archives…and then I was hooked. I spent more time up there at Temple than I care to tell you about. For 5 years I was up there every Thursday and Friday.
JGT: One thing a lot of people have asked me about and I haven’t been able to find a good answer for yet is this: the Athletics and the Phillies played extremely close to each other. The two ballparks (Shibe and Baker Bowl) were 6 blocks away. How did fans decide which team they were going to be a fan of?
KUKLICK: It wasn’t much of a choice. The A’s were the team of choice. I mean, you’re a loser if you’re a Phillies fan. If you look at statistics on attendance, the Phillies get nobody. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it was a very, very local crowd. If you lived 2 blocks from the Phillies and 4 blocks from the A’s, maybe you’d go there. But they had nobody. They had lousy players. Whenever they had a good player they would sell them to make ends meet (ed. note: sound familiar, Pittsburgh Pirate fans?) There were a couple of scandals around them in the early 1940s, about gambling and stuff. So it’s not really much of a choice. The A’s are the premiere team. People go and see the A’s play. The Phillies are kind of a minor 2nd thought, kind of an embarrassment to the National League. Of course, a lot of the National League teams are happy to have the Phillies around.
JGT: They’ve got someone to beat up on every couple of weeks.
KUKLICK: That’s right. That’s right. That’s why I like your site. Finally somebody says, “Sure the Phillies are great. Sure Chase Utley is great. But is he the greatest 2nd baseman that’s ever played here? Absolutely not. He doesn’t even come close.” People don’t realize that the 1929, 1930, and 1931 A’s are better than even this team today, which I think is the best team this franchise has had.
JGT: Sports Illustrated called that the team time forgot. People forget that those A’s smoked Ruth, Gehrig, and the Yankees in the standings.
KUKLICK: I know that.
JGT: Well, it’s a great trivia question. What Philadelphia pro team has won the most championships?That team is the one that moved away from here 57 years ago.
KUKLICK: And it’s not only that. They were only here for 54 years too. The Phillies have had a lot more years to put it together.
JGT: You had two stadiums, Shibe Park and the Baker Bowl. Was Shibe Park superior to the Baker Bowl?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. In fact the Phillies moved to Shibe in 1938. They had a couple of fires in the Baker Bowl, part of the stands collapsed, a repeated number of disasters.
JGT: Now Shibe was built in 1908 and 1909. When it was built, was it considered revolutionary?
KUKLICK: It was the first concrete and steel stadium. What that means is that it’s concrete that they stick steels rods in to make it almost indestructible. In fact, I bet you if you dig up under that church (there’s now a church on the old Shibe Park grounds) you’ll find bits of Shibe Park under the ground. I was told that it was so difficult to knock this place down that they finally just dug a huge hole at 21st and Lehigh and just put all the stuff in there and covered it over.
It’s the first stadium in the United States that uses this new technology, and it’s rapidly followed by a lot of similar stadiums. The two most important ones now are Fenway and Wrigley.
JGT: So did that sort of kick off a boom the way that Camden Yards in the 90s did?
KUKLICK: Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s the first one.
To read part 2 of this interview, click here. Then, as part of our Beer Week coverage, we’ll post Part 3, where he talks about how Connie Mack fought for decades to get booze into the ballpark, and how Pennsylvania’s blue laws and bars near the ballpark prevented him from doing so.
- If you haven’t done so already, and want to learn more about the early A’s, be sure to check out the interview I did with Chief Bender biographer Tom Swift.
- You’ll also enjoy this interview I did with former Philadelphia A’s fan John Rooney, who cheered the team on in 1929.
- And I’m pretty sure you’ll like this piece I did on former A’s player Simon Nicholls, who died tragically at age 28.